Once upon a time, in one of east London’s colourful, cosmopolitan streets, stood a café, quite unlike any other.
For inside, past the plush yet homely Victorian interior of wingback chairs and crushed velvet curtains, miniature stairs criss-crossed haphazardly and foot-high doorways lined the walls.
While visitors unwound, sipping their teas and coffees to relinquish the shackles of the daily nine to five grind, cats provided comfort, curling around their ankles.
It may sound like a fairytale, but that’s the vision of Australian-born Lauren Pears, who is hoping to open the UK’s first cat café, Lady Dinah’s Cat Emporium, in east London, by May.
A huge fan of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Lauren, who lives in east London, reveals that the popular children’s story inspired the name of the café, and will also be fairly central to its theme, with large chairs, small doors, mischievous moggies and an emphasis on eating and drinking.
“It’s not going to be swish and modern,“ she says, excitement rising in her voice. “We’ll be harking back to an older time, and, of course, there will be a strict no dog policy.
“The idea for the cat café came after moving to London three years ago, and not being able to have a pet. My flat is really small and I don’t think my landlord would be partial to the idea.
Saying that, I don’t think a cat would be particularly partial to my flat either.
“Instead, I have this habit of patting strangers’ cats on the way home. I’ve found loads of other people do the same too. I’ve got this favourite cat that I pass on the walk home from the Tube station. One day I couldn’t give her a cuddle because somebody else was. It was quite interesting really, to find there are a lot of people in my situation.
“So I decided I would set up a cat café, something I first came across when I visited Tokyo in 2008. Japan has a lot of cat cafés, they’re really popular over there.“
In fact, Japan has seen a boom in these types of cafés in recent years, as has China and Taiwan, where keeping pets while living in the city is not an easy option.
But this surge in popularity, the 30-year-old says, is also because of an increasing feeling of isolation within a big city.
“You can be surrounded by lots of people, but still feel alone.
“London is full of people that come from everywhere, it can be daunting, particularly if English isn’t your first language, or you’re a bit shy.
“Having something like a cat café gives you a place where the attention is focused on the cats. It’s a good place for lonely people.“
Her ambition to set up Lady Dinah’s Cat Emporium has existed since October 2012, and she is now working with three other people, plus advisors and The Mayhew Animal Home to make her feline fantasy a reality.
But in order to do so, she needs to raise £108,000 and she is hoping to achieve this goal by using crowdfunding.
“There has been a flurry of donations in the past few days, which is encouraging. Of course, I’d like a happy ending to my story, but if I can’t raise the money, as a last resort I’ll try and get a bank loan”, she says.“It’ll be worth it, to be the UK’s first crazy cat café lady.“
l To find out more and to contribute to Lady Dinah’s Cat Emporium go to www.indiegogo.com/LadyDsCatEmporium